A Daily Maverick reader answers Ivo Vegter on his latest green attack


Mr. Vegter weighed in on an article written by Jonathan Deal and posted on this blog.

 

Vegter’s article about Fruit of The Poisoned Tree is here – followed by the reply of Laurentz Roux.

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    Ivo Vegter

    This article is as biased as an op-ed by a Shell spindoctor would be. It is written by the head of an organisation that has promised to “cost us and the South African tax payers millions of rands” to hold up shale gas development in court, has publicly — and falsely — accused me of being on the payroll of either Shell or the ANC, and who appears to have lied in an attempt to discredit me, an independent professional journalist attempting to conduct a “cautious investigation”.

    In fact, when I described myself as “cautiously in favour” of shale gas drilling at a public debate at the Franschhoek Literary festival last year, Deal derided my caution as being “half-pregnant”.

    It is littered with superficial appeals to emotion. There’s misdirection, for example in the claim that GDP is the “definitive gauge of the health and wealth of people”, when in reality those of us who claim the world is a better place than ever before use numerous measures of human welfare, including but not limited to life expectancy, income, disease burden, access to basic needs such as housing and sanitation, per capita calorie intake and malnutrition, happiness, incidence of war and violent crime, and prevalence of bigotry and hatred. Here’s an example on the left, and here’s an example on the right, both of which give many reasons why 2013 was “the best year in human history”.

    It contains counter-factuals, such as the prediction that shale gas will do little to limit carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, it has already done so. The hard data is in, and it shows that in part due to a switch from coal to gas, US carbon emissions are at their lowest level in 20 years, far exceeding the emission reduction achievements of the signatories of environmentalist’s statist dream, the Kyoto Protocol. Gas halves carbon emissions, by comparison with coal, and almost completely eliminates all other pollution — such as sulphur compounds, nitrogen compounds, heavy metals and particulates (smog) — usually associated with generating electricity. This is basic chemistry. There simply is no factual way around that.

    He employs the guilt-by-association fallacy, using other climate skeptics to discredit me by implication. He does quote me, though he does not name me and the link doesn’t work. But even though he has the luxury of cherry-picking his targets, Deal fails to mention relevant facts. For example, Patrick Michaels was a founding member of Greenpeace. He left the organisation in the late 1980s because he thought the group had achieved its goal of placing environmental concerns front and centre in development policy debates. He felt they had gone off the rails in their increasingly shrill campaigns, and the effort to ban chlorine went too far. “That’s an element on the periodic table. I’m not sure that’s within our jurisdiction,” he reportedly said at the time. It would seem relevant that a former radical environmentalist came to the conclusion that his cause had become corrupted.

    And for a generously funded green activist, whose organisation was the beneficiary of a public collection taken during a debate at which I spoke for no fee, to cry foul when private companies donate money to causes that they support, is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The green lobby is at least as well funded as anyone who opposes them, and often by companies (or investment managers like Al Gore) with vested financial interests in renewable energy or other “green” technologies. Deal decries that “big industry can throw tens of millions of dollars at it”, but the annual budget of Greenpeace alone runs to hundreds of millions of dollars. And the profitability of the companies that support the green movement is dependent on coercive government policies, regulations and subsidies that benefit them and harm their competitors.

    In the end, he appeals to an unsubstantiated metaphor, “the poisoned tree”, without making any substantive claims about shale gas, and the South African government’s efforts to investigate its risks and benefits. He fails to mention the dozens of scientists who have contributed (and still are contributing) to research on the subject, both independently and at the request of the government. He ignores that the issue has been researched extensively, and that evidence of likely environmental harm is scant and anecdotal. He declines to point out that shale gas has been the subject of public debate for at least three years, receiving more intensive and detailed attention than most public policy issues. No amount of research and regulatory measures will be enough to lead Mr Deal to conclude that “our leaders have properly discharged their duty”, unless they rule in his favour and ban it.

    For independent coverage of this issue, by all means refer to The Obstructionism of Shale Gas Activists, and The Case for Constructive Environmentalism, or check out a list of all my extensive work on the subject.

    You may not agree with me, but at least I don’t have vested interests in advancing one position or the other. As I declared publicly in one of the public debates against Deal and his pet lawyer, if evidence is presented that significant harm would come to the Karoo, I will change my position. Conversely, if evidence is presented that potential harm would be very limited, Mr Deal declared that he would not change his mind. He couldn’t, could he, having won a lavish prize that generously funded his campaign with more than a million rand?

    • Avatar
      Laurenz Roux ANSWERS IVO VEGTER
       

      My comments to Mr. Vegter in italics, in parenthesis:

      This article is as biased as an op-ed by a Shell spindoctor would be {ad hominem?}. It is written by the head of an organisation that has promised to “cost us and the South African tax payers millions of rands” {it is by implication, as it is Government’s choice to go ahead without consideration} to hold up shale gas development in court, has publicly — and falsely — accused me of being on the payroll of either Shell or the ANC, {Fair enough, but it is banter like you yourself exercise as you’ll see} and who appears to have lied in an attempt to discredit me, an independent professional journalist attempting to conduct a “cautious investigation”.

      In fact, when I described myself as “cautiously in favour” of shale gas drilling at a public debate at the Franschhoek Literary festival last year, Deal derided my caution as being “half-pregnant” {apt likeness… ‘Abstaining from a opinion in light of more contextual information’ might have been what you meant?}.

      It is littered with superficial appeals to emotion {Mr. Vegter, we are human, emotion is CENTRAL to our survival and development as a species, without emotion or inferential LEAPS we would make little progress}. There’s misdirection, for example in the claim that GDP is the “definitive gauge of the health and wealth of people”, when in reality those of us who claim the world is a better place than ever before use numerous measures of human welfare, including but not limited to life expectancy, income, disease burden, access to basic needs such as housing and sanitation, per capita calorie intake and malnutrition, happiness, incidence of war and violent crime, and prevalence of bigotry and hatred {fair point, but I think that in the context which Deal was referring to they did not use it in this nice elaborate manner}. Here’s an example on the left, and here’s an example on the right, both of which give many reasons why 2013 was “the best year in human history”.

      It contains counter-factuals, such as the prediction that shale gas will do little to limit carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, it has already done so {Mr. Vegter, the US is not isolated from the rest of the world, and their coal production, for instance, is still increasing and I doubt they stockpile it never to be burnt. THAT is the point Mr. Deal is making}. The hard data is in, and it shows that in part due to a switch from coal to gas, US carbon emissions are at their lowest level in 20 years, far exceeding the emission reduction achievements of the signatories of environmentalist’s statist dream {Unnecessary, attacking the man a bit?}, the Kyoto Protocol. Gas halves carbon emissions, by comparison with coal, and almost completely eliminates all other pollution — such as sulphur compounds, nitrogen compounds, heavy metals and particulates (smog) {Smog is one of the localised problems with fracking production, stop there please} — usually associated with generating electricity. This is basic chemistry. There simply is no factual way around that {Yes, there isn’t, isn’t there?}.

      He employs the guilt-by-association fallacy, using other climate skeptics to discredit me by implication {Self implicated I’m afraid}. He does quote me, though he does not name me and the link doesn’t work. But even though he has the luxury of cherry-picking his targets {Tends to happen with any argument, or written piece. This accusation is very weak any time any one uses it}, Deal fails to mention relevant facts {What you sound like: I would like Deal to include fringe facts that I judge as relevant when my fancy strikes}. For example, Patrick Michaels was a founding member of Greenpeace {Oh, so now implication by association is fine?}. He left the organisation in the late 1980s because he thought the group had achieved its goal of placing environmental concerns front and centre in development policy debates. He felt they had gone off the rails in their increasingly shrill campaigns, and the effort to ban chlorine went too far. “That’s an element on the periodic table. I’m not sure that’s within our jurisdiction,” he reportedly said at the time. It would seem relevant that a former radical environmentalist came to the conclusion that his cause had become corrupted {I don’t get the point of this}.

      And for a generously funded green activist {Generously funded by his retirement savings}, whose organisation was the beneficiary of a public collection {not exactly bankrolling is it. The premise is usually “if you agree with what I say, please donate, so I can keep saying it”} taken during a debate at which I spoke for no fee {You may register as a non-profit, no one is stopping you to charge to cover your expenses}, to cry foul when private companies donate money to causes that they support {what Deal does: I believe *this*, any of you can donate if you believe *it* too. What private companies, ie Shell, does: Here is a considerable large sum of money, please do the research…. And by basic free economy rationale they kind-of have to say what the company likes, otherwise they would not get asked again}, is a case of the pot calling the kettle black {So, no it is not}. The green lobby is at least as well funded as anyone who opposes them, and often by companies (or investment managers like Al Gore) with vested financial interests in renewable energy or other “green” technologies {Are you kidding me??? The likes of Greenpeace have the financial & political capacity of Shell?. Go home.}. Deal decries that “big industry can throw tens of millions of dollars at it”, but the annual budget of Greenpeace alone runs to hundreds of millions of dollars {Deal is not Greenpeace, and vice versa, so again you do exactly what you accused Deal of}. And the profitability of the companies that support the green movement is dependent on coercive government policies, regulations and subsidies that benefit them and harm their competitors {Yes, we are quite aware how this system works, it works exactly the same as the other side. They are just playing the game, a bad one, but hey, they started it…}.

      In the end, he appeals to an unsubstantiated metaphor, “the poisoned tree” {like pot calling the kettle black perhapse?}, without making any substantive claims about shale gas, and the South African government’s efforts to investigate its risks and benefits. He fails to mention the dozens of scientists who have contributed (and still are contributing) to research on the subject, both independently and at the request of the government. He ignores that the issue has been researched extensively, and that evidence of likely environmental harm is scant and anecdotal. He declines to point out that shale gas has been the subject of public debate for at least three years, receiving more intensive and detailed attention than most public policy issues {Where? South Africa? Have you seen the astounding apathy to either side? Just because you write about it does not mean that it is as big as you think}. No amount of research and regulatory measures will be enough to lead Mr Deal to conclude that “our leaders have properly discharged their duty” {Whoa, you were most probably fuming at this point… They have done an embarrassingly little amount of ‘research’ into it (the point he is making). And you claim to know Deal’s level of satisfaction… which is ‘never’? This point is unsubstantiated and juvenile}, unless they rule in his favour and ban it {It would be helpful}.

      For independent coverage of this issue, by all means refer to The Obstructionism of Shale Gas Activists, and The Case for Constructive Environmentalism, or check out a list of all my extensive work on the subject. {Ag please}

      You may not agree with me, but at least I don’t have vested interests in advancing one position or the other. As I declared publicly in one of the public debates against Deal and his pet lawyer {Oops, pets are loyal because you pay for their food, lawyers like food, so lawyers are pets? is that the logical argument you used?}, if evidence is presented that significant harm would come to the Karoo, I will change my position. Conversely, if evidence is presented that potential harm would be very limited, Mr Deal declared that he would not change his mind {Deal does not see it as a binary and clear cut choice, so in principle, he will be against any form of fossil fuel. And it was a incredibly irresponsible hypothetical choice to give in a complex debate. Rather be angry about that! But you are so hell-bent at arguing your ‘facts’, that you find relevant, and cannot wrap your head around the fact that some topics are more than the facts, there are no black and whites, there are no right and wongs, there is only that pesky emotion that keeps us alive and thriving when we sense something is not right, and he is sensing it}. He couldn’t, could he, having won a lavish prize that generously funded Balanced the payments of his campaign with more than a million rand? {So it is bad form to accept a prize?}

      {Yes, I can even shoot holes in my own rebuttals, and I have the tone of a drunkard, but point stands, you are deducing complexities to a point where you think you as individual have the answers.

      You are a good writer, really, but it might suit you well to start from the premise of maybe it is more complicated than you think.}

      • Avatar
        jonathandeal  Laurenz Roux 

        Thank you Mr. Roux, for objectively putting that to Mr Vegter in a way that I haven’t managed to.

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